1) City Pensions

Q: Chicago's fire and police pensions are greatly underfunded, and the city is required by the state to make a $550 million payment into the pension funds by the end of 2015. Do you support restructuring the pension systems, inevitably reducing benefits, to put the funds on sound financial footing?

The First Responder pensions were reformed in 2011.  

Please Explain:

All too often our First Responders are somehow portrayed as greedy for receiving a pension.  They put their lives on the line every day. They see things and deal with things no average citizen would ever imagine seeing or dealing with. It is a job they readily accept with all the risks that come with it. 30 years of fighting crime and fires takes a toll on the body and mind. Who would want a firefighter or police officer working well into their sixties?
First responders already contribute and have contributed to their pensions; 9% of their pay. Cost of living increases are 1.5% simple and not compounded. In 2011 reforms were made to First Responder pension plans for all new hires under SB3538. Full retirement was changed from 50 to 55, the reduction of the final average salary from the highest 4 year average to the highest 8 year average, capped at $106,800. The bill also requires the City to make the necessary payments as stated in the question to bring the funding levels back to 90% by 2040. It appears as though the City has done nothing to prepare for this pending payment over the last 4 years.

Our State Constitution is clear that First Responder pensions“…shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired.” Regardless of how we got here, it is up to our current and future elected officials to fix the problem. That will include finding new revenue streams that do not burden taxpayers, cut spending and utilizing the billions of dollars in TIF funds.

I support a Chicago based Casino with 100% of the revenue dedicated to our pension liability until we are back on track. I support the idea put forth by Alderman Brendan Reilly to dedicate 50% of all current and future TIF funds toward pension liabilities until we are back on track. I also support the idea of reducing the number of Aldermen from 50 to 25 and eliminating pensions for all elected officials.

Q: Chicago's pension systems for municipal workers and laborers already have been restructured, reducing benefits, but the city has yet to identify where it will find the revenue to sufficiently fund those systems. Under what circumstances would you support a property tax increase to raise the needed revenue for the fire and police pensions and/or the municipal workers and laborers pensions?

A: It’s all about priorities. Unfortunately our elected officials attempt to scare the public into supporting alternative plans to reduce benefits by leading them to believe there will be a property tax increase.  The tax payers already pay enough.  Not only do we need to find new sources of revenue (like a Casino), we need to curb our spending and make the necessary cuts to balance the books; that includes utilizing TIF funds to help get our house in order.

2) Chicago Public Schools pensions

Q: Large and growing payments required to keep the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund solvent are squeezing CPS' budget, forcing cuts elsewhere and limiting investment. The Chicago Board of Education has increased property taxes, but it is not enough to keep up with the high annual costs. What measures do you support to ensure a solvent retirement system and to improve the district's finances?

A: As answered above, we need to stop looking to the tax payer to resolve our spending problems. We should also take a hard look at those “high annual costs”. It's unclear exactly where all the money is going. Our focus should be on the students and teachers first.  

The Civic Federation reports it was unable to get "consistent financial reporting" of public funds given to privately run charter schools. I agree with some of their recommendations: CPS should 1) Provide an explanation how TIF monies can and cannot be used by the District; 2) Provide a more transparent single budget document; including a more explicit accounting of where dollars are spent; 3) Require Chicago Board of Education participation at public hearings; 4) Require consistent financial reporting for charter schools.   

3) Revenue

Q: In light of the financial issues discussed above, do you support any or all of the following measures, each of which would require, at a minimum, approval by the Illinois Legislature?

* A statewide expansion of the sales tax base to include more consumer services

Yes or No: No

* A tax on non-Chicago residents who work in the city

Yes or No: No

* A tax on electronic financial transactions on Chicago’s trading exchanges, known as the “LaSalle Street tax”

Yes or No:  This idea has potential, but may be nothing more than an unrealistic sound bite for politicians to spout during election season. It would require state legislative action and a signature from the Governor; none of which is likely to ever happen. So for a candidate for alderman to throw "support" behind an unattainable idea is really just lip service to the voters.

Please explain your views, if you wish, on any of these three revenue-generating measures.

Our elected officials repeatedly look to raise taxes, but almost never curb spending. When more money comes in, they find ways to spend it.

4) Crime

Q: Do you support hiring more police officers to combat crime and gun violence in Chicago?

Yes or No: Yes

Please explain:

I am a Chicago Police Lieutenant and I am assigned to the 16th District which covers a large portion of the 45th Ward.  I am part of the public safety process within our community working with the resources we have. For the record, my statements here are not given as a Chicago Police Officer and not on behalf of the City of Chicago or the Chicago Police Department.

It has been well documented that the City of Chicago has a shortage of police officers. The 16th District and the 17th District that make up the 45th Ward have both seen an influx of gang members and a reduction in police personnel over the years. Criminal street gangs have successfully established footholds in stable neighborhoods and local parks, while our Alderman has made a mediocre attempt at best to increase police resources city wide and almost no attempt at all to increase resources in the districts that make up the 45th Ward.

We need all the resources we can get to keep this and other ward neighborhoods safe. I know and understand how the Chicago Police Department works. As alderman, I will demand that our community is provided with the necessary police manpower and equipment to combat these violent gangs and keep our streets safe.

We need more officers on the street as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the current hiring process would not allow new officers to hit the streets anytime soon. In order to expedite the hiring process and bring experienced officers into the Chicago Police Department, I propose that we begin hiring experienced officers from other municipal police departments. Under this “lateral transfer” plan, officers with at least two (2) years of sworn law enforcement experience who pass a review process would immediately be hired as probationary police officers. They would then be placed into an accelerated academy class to familiarize them with Chicago specific ordinances and police procedures. Thus, by reducing the redundant training of an already certified Illinois Peace Officer, we could have experienced officers on the street in 1/ 6 the time that it takes to train a new officer.

Q: What legislation in Springfield would you support to try to stem the flow of illegal guns into Chicago?

I would support legislation that imposes mandatory minimum sentencing for offenders convicted of illegal use of a weapon. If we take a look at the criminal history of most of our homicide offenders, we would see that they were likely convicted of some sort of weapons violation within the last 5 years; yet are now out on the street to commit more crimes.

5) Elected school board

Q: An advisory referendum on switching Chicago to an elected school board, rather than an appointed board, is expected to be on the ballot in more than 30 wards on Feb. 24. Currently, the mayor appoints all seven board members and the Schools CEO. Do you support a change to an elected school board?

Please explain:  I believe our school board should be similar to our Chicago Police "pension board".  They have 8 trustees; half are appointed by the Mayor and half are elected by the members. A board made up of both elected and appointed would give us the best of both worlds.

6)  TIFs are the primary economic development tool of the city. In a TIF district, taxes from the growth in property values are set aside for 23 years to be used for public projects and private development. Do you support increasing the annual TIF surplus that the mayor and the City Council have declared in each of the last few years, money that goes to the schools and other city agencies?
Yes or No:

Q: What reforms would you propose for the city's TIF program? 

A: Until we get our pension debt under control, I support the idea presented by Alderman Reilly to put 50% of all current and future TIF funds toward our pension liabilities.

7) Neighborhood economic development

Q: What would you do as alderman to boost economic development in your ward, and bring jobs to your community?

A: I will have a business liaison in our office who will help current and future business owners cut through the red tape that is city hall; sort of an expeditor to make it easier for businesses to get up and running. We will reach out to and work with property owners who appear to keep their properties vacant.  We will work with them to get their properties in a condition that suitable for leasing. We will market our Ward which is perfectly situated with easy access to O'Hare and downtown. We have the Kennedy Expressway, the blue line and the Metra. There is no reason our communities couldn't be destinations for people to go eat, shop and be entertained.

8) Size of the Chicago City Council

Q: The City Council has 50 members, but civic groups and other regularly argue for reducing the size of the Council. What should the size of the Council be? Please provide a specific number. And why?

A: I believe we should not do more with less when it comes to pub­lic safety, but I strongly believe we can do more with less Aldermen.

Now is the per­fect oppor­tu­nity to insti­tute real change in our city gov­ern­ment. At one time you needed to call your alder­man to get a garbage can; now you just call 311. Now is a great time to strongly con­sider and have hear­ings on reduc­ing the num­ber of Wards to 25 instead of 50.

The process can be sim­ple, one Alderman for each police dis­trict. If one police com­man­der can be respon­si­ble for the safety of over 100 thou­sand res­i­dents, I’m sure one Alderman can rep­re­sent the same num­ber of con­stituents. Imagine an alder­man who doesn’t have a sec­ond job; with his sole respon­si­bil­ity to rep­re­sent and work for the cit­i­zens of his ward.

9) A Chicago casino

Q: Do you support, in general concept, establishing a gambling casino in Chicago?

Yes or No: Yes

Please explain:  A Casino based in Chicago would bring in much needed revenue that is now going to Des Plaines and Indiana. 100% of the revenue generated for the city should be used to eliminate our current pension liabilities. Once the funds are healthy, the revenue can be directed toward our schools.

10) Red light and speed cameras

Q: Does the city have an acceptable number of red light and speed cameras currently, and are they properly employed?

Yes or No:  I don't believe the city needs any red light or speed cameras. They have not been adequately proven to contribute to safety and may even be responsible for an increased number of accidents.

Please explain:

11) Ward issues

Q: What are the top three issues in your ward — the ones you talk about most on the campaign trail?

The top 3 issues I encounter going door to door are Ward services (road conditions in particular), Airplane noise, Economic Development.

Residents repeatedly complain about the condition of our streets and the apparent mismanagement of our Ward resources.  I will utilize our 1.3 million dollars in infrastructure money (Menu money) to get a road repair back on track. Funds not utilized for roads will be spent by Ward residents in a participatory budget that is inclusive of all Ward residents.

Airplane noise is a big complaint in our community. Our Alderman states he has attended every meeting of the O'Hare Noise Compatibility Commission since taking office in 2011, yet he has never uttered a single word to the community about what was coming in regard to new runway use and noise that comes with it. He ignored repeated attempts by FAiR to sound the alarm and allow residents to have a voice. He was apparently asleep at the wheel. I will fight to have the extremely loud Cargo planes re-routed to reduce a significant amount of noise and have the decibel range lowered so residents can be reimbursed for sound proofing.

While some communities in the Ward have experienced a few new businesses opening, just as many have closed throughout the rest of the Ward. I will work to represent every neighborhood within the ward and try to fill store fronts in every community.

A 4th issue is Public Safety. While our Ward is considered one of the safest in the city, we still have a significant amount of crime. While we are not Englewood, we are certainly not Park Ridge. The number of officers assigned to the districts that make up the 45th Ward are significantly lower than they were just 15 years ago. I will work to get those numbers replenished.

Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board questionnaire responses

John Garrido

Office running for: Alderman, 45th Ward

Political/civic background: None

Occupation: Chicago Police Lieutenant and Attorney

Education:Graduated from The John Marshall Law School in January 2006 and Passed the February 2006 Illinois Bar Exam: 

Campaign website:  http://johngarrido.com